Media Focus Group - Real Radio
(l-r) Ann Gibb of Feather Brooksbank, Richard Kelly of Faulds and Jan Dargue of Mediacom.Taking part in the discussion this time were Jan Dargue of Mediacom, Ann Gibb of Feather Brooksbank and Richard Kelly of Faulds Media.
Real Radio launched in Scotland earlier this year, rebranding and building from the disappointing Scot FM. The launch combined the high-profile above-the-line campaign and PR hype used successfully for the launch of the “Real” brand in South Wales. Last week’s RAJAR figures indicated that they have lived up to their listener targets – although some would say the immediate targets were modest, given the existing Scot FM base and the reputed “£1m” launch campaign.
This discussion covered a range of the other aspects of radio in Scotland and did not concentrate on the already widely reported listening figures.
This report from the focus group discussion is based on the opinions, knowledge and perceptions of those media buyers who participated. Others, including media owners, may hold different opinions.
The use of radio as an advertising medium is seen as a dichotomy for many media planners and buyers. Radio is known to be effective – it can build brands, extend the life of campaigns, give flexibility and can bring intimacy, mood and tone to communication. However, creatively it remains a major challenge. The arguments for featuring radio on a schedule appear logical and robust, but media buyers have major concerns related to the environment of their advertising (i.e. the number and nature of the other commercials) and also have concerns regarding the ability of their creative partners to be able to use the medium effectively.
There was a clear perception that Scottish-based creatives and the majority of in-house radio station production departments are unable to deliver high-quality radio commercials. This is in stark contrast to national advertisers and southern ad agencies, who are believed to be more comfortable with bringing in “radio commercial specialists” to create imaginative and effective commercials.
The net results are often commercials that “try” to use humour (but it quickly wears thin) or are “information”-based pack-it-all-in-as-quick-as-possible ads that fail to engage or entertain on transmission.
In relation to the issue of the break environment, the majority of radio stations in Scotland, and in particular the SRH stations, are perceived to have particularly high volumes of advertising per hour (Clyde 28 per hour and Forth 26 per hour), which invariably results in high perceived repetition of the ads, increasing the listener irritation factor, downgrading the listener’s enjoyment as well as the overall environment for the advertising.
This latter issue has given Real Radio the opportunity to establish a major point of difference. The media buyers believed that Real Radio had set out to improve the environment and raise the quality of the listening experience by putting a limit on the volume of ads per hour that was significantly lower than that of Scottish Radio Holdings stations (Real believed to be 16 per hour).
Cynics might interpret this as being due to low demand, but nonetheless it is a strong message related to the desire to improve the listening experience and allow the ads more opportunity to impact on listeners. It also allows the opportunity to try to price their airtime at a premium, due to restricted availability.
In addition, Real Radio have indicated that they intend to follow a quality evaluation policy for commercials, similar to those in place at national commercial stations such as Classic FM, in that, if the commercial isn’t good enough, it will be rejected for transmission by the station.
Although this appears to be a strong endorsement of the strategy of improving the quality of the ads, these buyers were unaware if this had actually happened and perceived it to be extremely difficult for the station to actually do, given the desire to build both revenue and relationships.
So there are strong concerns related to the quality and volume of ads across many radio stations in Scotland, but what about the overall output of the stations themselves? The strong audience performances amongst the Scottish local stations appear to indicate the acceptability of the output amongst listeners, but these media buyers (perhaps reflecting their own preferences) were calling out for more intelligent radio presenters and presentation styles. Humour and entertainment can be delivered with subtlety – as is proved by Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan. In comparison, Robin Galloway’s Wind up and George Bowie’s banter appears tired and forced. This also reflects on the quality of speech-based programming, which in effect is seen to consist exclusively of phone-ins, the majority of which are thought to be of poor quality. The exception to this can be football phone-ins – of which Real are thought to have inherited a strong nightly show with Alan Rough and Bill Young, whereas the Clyde Superscoreboard phone-in is thought to have become less empathetic with their callers.
This led to a broader discussion on the impact that Real Radio has had more generally on the radio sector in Scotland. Scottish Radio Holdings, with its historic strong positioning with Clyde, Forth, Tay, Northsound, Westsound and Moray, is recognised to be the “establishment” in Scotland. It has a mature and successful organisation. However, that maturity and success makes the media buyers consider them to have been, and to continue to be, complacent. The new kids on the block – especially Beat and now Real – have shaken the cosy structure and attempted to challenge. But there was surprise amongst the media buyers that SRH has not done more. The above-the-line campaigns for Clyde and, especially, Forth’s rebranding were thought to have been very low-key, relying solely on outdoor posters provided via their sister company Score.
It had been expected that SRH should have been much more active to maintain its dominant position. There appears to have been little attempt to present fresh insight into the market by SRH, with a lack of new research. (The Scottish radio listener is a highly regarded information source from SRH, but is not frequent enough for some buyers.)
Several buyers had only talked with/seen/met with one or two radio stations in the last six months – none of which had been SRH, who appear to be sitting tight with a “wait and see” strategy, rather than a high-profile or confident approach to the market.
Another key differentiator between radio stations in Scotland relates to the imagination and construction of client promotions.
This is an aspect where the larger stations appear to struggle and have got stuck in a rut. “Winning Weekends” are thought to be a tired vehicle at SRH and Beat’s initial enthusiasm and drive seems to have slowed, leaving the smaller stations, such as Clan FM, to be highlighted for their imagination.
Bringing the discussion to a conclusion naturally leads to the topic of money.
Generally, radio is seen as a very cost-effective option, when appropriate to use. In particular, the current airtime sales policy at SRH delivers a cost effectiveness and value that the other stations in Scotland can’t get close to.
Therefore, SRH pushes other stations off the schedule by delivering outstanding value, perhaps at the expense of the quality of the environment. The potential of an improved environment would appear to be perceived as the key strategy for Real Radio to become more attractive to the advertising market in Scotland. But without the capacity for creative radio advertising production within the Scottish advertising community perhaps there are few advertisers who would really benefit.
Until good radio ads can be delivered on a regular and consistent basis, the radio stations in Scotland will continue to pile the airtime high, and sell it cheap – just like Tony from Tile-It-All.